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GRACED LIFE – THE WRITINGS OF JOHN HUGHES MATTHEW BULLIMORE (ED.)

Attending a lecture on ‘Economic Responses to Poverty’ would not, normally, be at the top of my ‘To do’ list, but the lecture in question was in Alnmouth (where I live) and there was no real excuse

Br John introduces John Hughes

for me not attending it. The lecturer was a priest from Cambridge – the Dean of Jesus College to be precise – and seemed, from chatting over coffee, to be a nice and rather unassuming chap; the lecture would probably be a bit boring I thought (not having the least interest in economics) but at least I was showing support for the initiative and anyway, there wasn’t anything else to do… How wrong I was. I remember sitting utterly transfixed in the library (all thoughts of dozing forgotten) as John Hughes effortlessly surveyed the landscape of Catholic and Anglican responses to poverty suggesting, essentially, that what is usually termed ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ (i.e. the response of the Church to poverty, work, labor and economics) was more accurately understood as ‘Christian Social Teaching’ in which the Church of England could rightly claim to have a part (see Hughes’ 2014 essay ‘After Temple? The Recent Renewal of Anglican Social Thought’). On leaving the lecture everyone who was fortunate to attend was very much of the opinion that here was someone who would do great things over the next few years and someone who had important things to say. Unfortunately we were wrong in at least one regard because, just a few months after John Hughes came to talk to us, he died in a tragic car accident.

The book is, as its title suggests, a collection of essays by John Hughes and contains riches ‘too numerous to mention.’ The first essay ‘The Politics of Forgiveness: A Theological exploration of King Lear’of 2001 is of note not only because of its sheer brilliance but because it introduces certain Leitmotifsthat continue to appear throughout the collection. Hughes takes two apparently disparate secular notions of forgiveness, points out the shortcomings in both, and then argues for a better third way, a theological way predicated on Grace and Resurrection. This wish to gently draw the reader toward the Gospel and to see that same Gospel as something rational and helpful is seen in the essay ‘Proofs and arguments’ of 2011 (which first appeared in Andrew Davison’s collection Imaginative Apologetics). In this essay Hughes critiques the stridency of both modernist foundationalist and postmodern relativist apologetic arguing (yet again) for a different approach; a more gentle ‘modest Christian rationalism’ in which the questions directed towards people of faith are listened to, respected and answered.

There is much, much more to say about this brilliant and poignant book and a short review will never do it justice. One other thing of note, however, is the introductory essay by Matthew Bullimore. In this essay Bullimore (a longstanding friend) identifies many of the themes that run through the body of work as well as providing an affectionate portrayal of John Hughes ‘the man’. May his memory be a blessing!

 

Joseph Emmanuel SSF

HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE? CHRISTIAN ENGAGEMENT WITH CONTEMPORARY ISSUES – SAMUEL WELLS

This collection of essays on a wide range of contemporary topics certainly lives up to its subtitle. The first section, ‘Engaging with the World’ covers a wide spectrum from Islam and Islamist extremism to ecumenism and social media. Sam Wells has an arresting style, which owes a great deal to his experience as a regular contributor to Thought for the Day, but as with that programme, just at the point when one is ready for further exposition of the topic, the time is up. There is an interesting take on the story of Ruth in the essay on migration. ‘There is no need to be sentimental about Ruth’s story. She faces a terrible crisis as the story begins. It’s not necessary to portray her simply as a pious, devoted daughter in law who discovers an influential kinsman and patron and makes him her husband. She uses guile and seduction to achieve what her lowly social status would never have given her.’

The second and third sections are as arresting, but in a more personal way. ‘Being Human’ deals with a variety of human conditions, from obesity and domestic violence, to disability, childhood and LGBT. Sam Wells’ direct style and compassionate approach provide plenty of food for thought. Much of the book lends itself to lively group discussions, particularly the essay on international development, where the writer promotes the idea that we should be more humble in our approach rather than adopting a superior attitude of ‘doing good’!

Sam Wells’ experience as a pastor provides the background to the final section, ‘Mortality’. His compassion is evident in these final essays, where he does not flinch or mince his words. In all, this is a stimulating and thought provoking read, not to be swallowed whole, but rather to be taken slowly.

Averil Swanton TSSF

 

LAST TESTAMENT – IN HIS OWN WORDS – POPE BENEDICT XVI WITH PETER SEEWALD

This book is really the collection of a series of interviews with the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. One begins to feel from the beginning of this book a fierce burning intelligence and a love of God that is all encompassing and the driving force of his life. I cannot confess to being a huge fan of Pope Benedict, far from it in fact, but what I discovered in this memoir was a human being working out his pilgrimage like the rest of us, trying to remain faithful and grow into the fullness of his humanity.

The book is set out in a question and answer format, from his early life in Germany, his studies and ordination and rise through the ranks of the church to become the right hand man of John Paul II, earning the title ‘God’s Rottweiler’ and his eventual election as Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The book is deeply interesting and challenging, yet very easy to read and is enjoyable in the way that only autobiographical sketches can be, about a man of faith, who caused controversy and also inspires many. Do read this with an open mind and an open heart. It’s worth it!

 

Michael Jacob SSF

DETHRONING MAMMON: MAKING MONEY SERVE GRACE – JUSTIN WELBY

Justin Welby’s first book, Dethroning Mammon, is a delightful consideration of the spirituality associated with wealth. Designed as a Lent book, it is split into six chapters that develop his ideas about the relationship between God, money and sin. Drawing on lots of examples from his own experiences and of people he knows, he has created a very readable book about a very personal and difficult topic. Personally, I do not see this as a Lent book, but rather as a book that all Christians should read to help raise awareness and create discussions about finance. The book is gentle and guiding, which makes it feel more usable with a group, where embarrassment about discussing personal finances would naturally occur.

Each of the six chapters focusses on a different New Testament passage and it struck me how the chapters follow the same pattern as Clare’s guidance for prayer (gaze, consider, contemplate, imitate) with one notable difference towards the end. Welby begins by helping us to see that Mammon exists, not as money, but as the love of money. He then considers it, how is it measured, in chapter 2. Chapters 3 and 4 contemplate the links between Mammon and power, looking at the structures of possession and greed. The twist then begins in Chapter 5 where we are looking at how we are already imitating Mammon but then utilise the knowledge we have gained to dethrone it and raise Christ through generosity and joy.

I have often moaned to the brothers that books about the vow of poverty tend to consider spiritual poverty, but are reluctant to get into the murky world of material poverty and how it relates to the vow. This book is brilliant at addressing this concern, focussing on the spiritual aspects of material poverty in order to make concrete suggestions.

 

Christopher Martin SSF

 

SEEKING SURRENDER; HOW MY FRIENDSHIP WITHA TRAPPIST MONKS TAUGHT ME TO TRUST AND EMBRACE LIFE – COLETTE LAFIA

‘A beautiful and honest book,’ says Richard Rohr on the cover page of this book, and he is right to say so.  It is a record of a friendship between the author and Brother René, a monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, a monastery made famous by an earlier monk by the name of Thomas Merton.   The author includes letters exchanged between herself and the elderly Brother René, together with her own reflections on her life and spiritual path.  Infertility, cancer, insomnia and business challenges had been the background to her daily struggle with loss and grief.  Through visits and times of retreat, and the ongoing relationship of spiritual direction with Brother René, Lafia manages to find not a solution to her problems but a way forward through her distress.  She describes this as an ever-deepening ‘living surrender’: not a capitulation but an acceptance of the situation in which she finds herself, while still looking for how God is with her and beckoning her forward in her pain. Gradually she is able to come to a sense of greater resolution, and herself embarks on a course of training in spiritual direction, evidence of which is seen in the text boxes directly addressed to the reader that intersperse the book.  As a relatively short book this is not the last word on spiritual discernment, but is a deeply felt and encouraging essay into a monastic wisdom for everyday life.

 

Nicholas Alan SSF

 

ON AUGUSTINE – ROWAN WILLIAMS

If you want a systematic introduction to the life and theology of the great Latin Doctor St Augustine (of Hippo) then this is not the book for you. I say this not, in any way wishing to demean the author. He, in fact, writes very much the same thing in his introduction, in which he explains that the book is a collection of essays and sermons written by him over the course of twenty-five years in which he has reflected upon certain aspects of the massive Augustinian corpus.

From the first essay (‘A question to myself’ Time and self-awareness in the Confessions) it becomes clear that this is a book of great wisdom; the product of painstaking and prayerful reflection.  In this essay Williams ponders the Augustinian notion of distension, explaining that perhaps the most famous Augustinian prayer (in which Augustine says the Soul achieves no rest until she finds her rest in God) is underpinned by this rather complicated notion in which memory and expectation infuse the present. There are also essays that deal with political questions (‘Politics and the Soul: Reading the City of God’), Christian ecology (‘Good for Nothing?’ Augustine on creation), Theology and Christology. These are, for the most part, written with theologians in mind and therefore one should expect to expend some thought and effort before they surrender their riches. One small criticism I would make is that there is an expectation that the reader will understand Latin, an expectation which, as any teacher of theology or history will tell you, is an increasingly forlorn one. A few extra footnotes in a future addition might well be of use!

Overall the book is of great and lasting worth and firmly part of the revisionist movement of the past twenty five years in which Augustine, unfairly accused for many years as the architect of many of the Church’s ills, has received a most welcome rehabilitation. For his part in this Dr Williams is to be thanked.

Joseph Emmanuel SSF

 

THE WAY OF CHRIST-LIKENESS: BEING TRANSFORMED BY THE LITURGIES OF LENT, HOLY WEEK AND EASTER – MICHAEL PERHAM

This excellent companion and commentary embraces the period from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, focussing particularly on Holy Week and Easter.  The author, formerly a member of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission, writes principally for those who celebrate the liturgy and preach in local churches. His accessible exposition of key liturgical concepts provides excellent teaching material. Explanation of the differences between the calendar and the approach adopted by Common Worship to this period of the Church’s year, and that in the Book of Common Prayer, which still provides a mental framework for some older worshippers, is particularly helpful.

Each chapter considers the significance of the events being enacted, commemorated or celebrated, tracing their observance in Christian tradition and history.  Bishop Michael reflects on the narratives theologically and in terms of their power to transform individuals and the church community. His aim is to enable people to ‘make connections’ between liturgy and life, between the story of Jesus and our own story, and so to be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s transforming work. He enthusiastically commends the commemoration of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection not simply as a reminder of the essentials of our faith, but as a means of entering the stories and discovering their power to make us more like Christ, even and perhaps especially in the face of painful harrowing life experience.

The author’s scholarship and passion is grounded in pastoral wisdom. While underlining the essential character of each liturgy, he offers a range of imaginative and practical suggestions for selecting and, when necessary, sensitively adapting the authorised material to suit a broad spectrum of church situations.

Sue CSF

 

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

At the June 2016, Annual Brothers Chapter at Hilfield, Hugh showed pictures of his visit to the Jungle in Calais, and Benedict read a letter from Brother Johannes Maertens asking for volunteers to come for several weeks, if possible. After quickly consulting my diary, I told Benedict I would be happy to go to Calais for the month of January. So it was arranged; in the interim the so-called Jungle was closed, but Johannes promised there would still be plenty to do, so I travelled to Calais on 5thJanuary, 2017.

Arriving in Calais, I was confronted by two powerful challenges. The first was a pair of armed gendarmes standing in the lobby of the train station. They were there, I later learned, to stop migrants from coming back to Calais. Over 400 migrants have been documented in Calais, with more arriving every day. The ones I encountered were mostly Eritreans, many of them minors fleeing forced conscription in their country. People who helped migrants were under surveillance. Johannes and Veronique, a supporter and volunteer who collected me at the train station, were nervously talking about the police vehicle parked at the corner near the house. ‘Don’t open the door unless I am there,’ Johannes told me. It was a daunting caution.

The other challenge as I shuffled into the Calais-Fréthun train station was the voice of Tina Turner singing her 1984 torch song ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ Just about everything, I decided. At that point I had no idea what I was facing, I felt intimidated by language barriers, the armed gendarmes, and wondering what in the world I could do to help in this situation. But I knew one thing I could offer was my love.

It was love that bade me welcome. The Maria Skobtsova Catholic Worker House was founded just over a year ago by Br. Johannes Maertens, a monk of the Servants of the Good Shepherd Benedictine Community of the Old Catholic Church; he is supported and helped by many, among them Baptist colleagues from England, the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis, other Anglican, Catholic and Protestant Churches, Roman Catholic Sisters of the Auxilaires and a host of wonderful, committed people in Calais, many of them also associated with Secours Catholique (Caritas France). The house hosts many young migrants—sixteen of us in a three-bedroom house. I was lucky having only two roommates. One extremely cold night we had 21 young people in the house. With one toilet and one shower it made for a highly-negotiated life. But it was luxury compared with the Jungle and the camps where many stay. Fortunately, food was brought in already cooked from L’Auberge, an establishment that not only prepared nearly 1000 meals a day for migrants at Dunkirk camp and individuals living under bridges and in dark corners, but shipped food, clothing and other essentials to migrants and refugees across Europe. We wedged around our dining table and after grace in English, Arabic or Tigrinya the food was served out. We ate voraciously—nothing ever tasted as good to me as those hot meals once a day: beans, rice, pasta or potatoes.

Within days it became clear to me what I could do among these young migrants: I listened to their stories of their families, their travels across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea watching acquaintances die and be ejected from truck or boat like refuse. I supervised the use of the washing machine, chided them to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, a difficult task as any parent or guardian knows. We celebrated their favourite football teams’ victories and consoled each other at the losses. They never once had to be asked to wash the dishes or sweep the floor, muscling me and Johannes out of the way after dinner.

Every evening the household gathers for prayer. For a while we were blessed with the presence of two fifteen-year-old boys who were called, I think, ‘diakonos’ in the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Not what Anglicans think of as a deacon, but exceptionally gifted leaders of prayer and song. They sang, we said ‘Amen,’ and knelt and bowed our heads to the floor as incense swirled in the candlelight. Using Taizé chants, prayers from the SSF Office Book, and long passionate prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Amharic, we took stock of our days and offered them to God. We contemplated the enormity of what is happening to them: what’s happening in our world in an up-close and personal way.

Then, late at night many would don heavy clothing and go out into the night to try their luck at crossing over to England. They had to navigate dangerous trucks, snarling dogs, guards with cattle prods and hostile politics. These children wanted only to be with their families again and to have the hope of peaceable futures. f

 

Br Clark Berge SSF was Minister General of the First Order Brothers when he wrote this article.

 

 

 

L’ARCHE, CANTERBURY

 I did not know much about L’Arche when I first came to England. I was asked once by a guest in Alnmouth if I knew about this community and I only had a vague idea that it was about people with disabilities. When I was told about my move to Canterbury, one thing I knew about the house was its involvement with the local L’Arche community and that was something I wanted to know more about.

After my conversation at Alnmouth, I remembered also some of the work that was done with and for people with learning disabilities in the parish I worked for in Sweden. I am very happy that today I know much more about L’Arche and the richness this community offers to people from all over the world and with all kinds of abilities.

L ’Arche was founded in 1964 in Trosly-Breuil, a small village north of Paris. Encouraged by Father Thomas, a Dominican priest, Jean Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities – Philippe Seux and Raphael Simi – to leave their institution and come and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, which he named ‘L’Arche.’

The small community grew fast, soon welcoming new people with intellectual disabilities and inviting young people from around the world to share their lives. Unforeseen by Vanier, it did not take long for people to decide to create new L’Arche communities in their own countries; 1969 saw the creation of the first home near Toronto, Canada, called Daybreak, the first of many later communities in North America. In the 1970s, the vision of L’Arche also inspired people to found L’Arche in India, Ivory Coast and Honduras.

This expansion meant that L’Arche needed to open up to a wide variety of cultures, languages, and social backgrounds. Although founded in the Catholic tradition, L’Arche communities rapidly became ecumenical or inter-religious, finding their point of unity in a common set of human values. Open and engaged in the world, they seek to be a sign of hope and solidarity.

The unexpected expansion of L’Arche on five continents revealed the need for proper structures in order to maintain the unity of L’Arche, and accordingly an International Board was established. In 2017, L’Arche consists of 149 communities and 14 projects in 37 countries worldwide. Although grounded in the Christian tradition, L’Arche Communities welcome people of all faiths and none and its vision is a world where all belong.

The first L’Arche community in the UK opened here in Kent in 1974. One of the founding members was Jean Vanier’s sister, Thérèse. The house where she lived is no longer a L’Arche community house, but at All Souls-tide, there is an annual visit to the churchyard where she and some other members are buried. Today’s Kent community comprises three L’Arche houses where people with learning disabilities and assistants live and share life together, two in Canterbury and one close to where the first house was, not far from Canterbury.  In addition, the community supports about twelve people with learning disabilities to live the life they choose in either their own homes or in shared housing.

I have learned to know this community more and more since my move to Canterbury. At our friary, we meet people from L’Arche Kent twice a week as they use our front yard for their stall to sell craft, candles, plants and other things they make. The plants are grown close to St. Mildred’s Church with their gardening project called ‘The Glebe’. During Advent, a group of people enjoyed singing carols on the High Street and collected money for L’Arche, and at other times songs have been sung to collect money for the L’Arche community in Damascus. One of the former assistants living in that community and now working here in Kent lived with us for half a year while she was successfully applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. Her cooking was always something to look forward to.

Food and sharing is an important part of community life in L’Arche. I join one of the main houses, Faith House, most Tuesdays to cook with them and share the evening meal and a community evening. We go through the past and coming week, learn Makaton, signs that support people with no or poor verbal communication, and have prayer time together. Often we celebrate something special, such as someone being welcomed into the community, someone leaving, birthdays, someone who has died, or other aspects of life. I really enjoy what I learn from being part of this community; we all have much to offer. We are all vulnerable, and to embrace that is something good, and the sharing of a meal is such a good way of building community. I have often compared our sharing on Tuesdays with the sharing in the Eucharist.f

At the time of writing Br Michael Christoffer SSF was resident in the Canterbury House.

A REVOLUTION OF THE HEART

In his critique of capitalism, Marx’s concern was the dignity of the human being, rooted in nature, and as a free, spiritual and social being. He argued that capitalism alienates humans from their own being, from nature, and from others. Whereas revolutionary Marxism seeks to abolish capitalism and create a classless society, the aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to restore and protect human dignity by building communities that practice compassion, non-violence, and solidarity with victims of injustice. Dorothy Day called this a ‘revolution of the heart’ that ‘has to start with each one of us’.

The Catholic Worker is a Catholic, ecumenical and pacifist movement that was started in 1933 in New York by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They first published a newspaper and soon after opened the first house of hospitality for the poor and the homeless. There are now over 200 such communities around the world.

Our house of hospitality, called Giuseppe Conlon House, in North London, is run by a small community of volunteers who live together with destitute asylum seekers. We also publish a newsletter, help run a weekly soup kitchen, organise public events and take non-violent action against war, arms trade, and in solidarity with migrants and refugees. We live in a former church building leased to us rent-free by our Catholic diocese. Most of our food, toiletries and other household items are donated by local shops, schools, churches and members of the local community. We mainly rely on donations to pay our bills and do not receive any public funding.

Marx argued that work under capitalist conditions is alienating because it is not an activity that has value in itself and belongs to the worker, but only provides the means for the worker’s physical survival. As human beings we have the capacity to creatively shape the world around us, both the natural world and our society, through physical, intellectual and emotional work. Through our work we feel connected to nature and to the people around us. By taking away ownership of work from the worker, capitalism undermines this capacity and therefore isolates and oppresses the individual.

By living in community and offering hospitality at Giuseppe Conlon House, we try to overcome this alienation. The homeless men who live with us are, in most cases, refused asylum seekers and have no recourse to public funds. This means that they are not allowed to work for an income and cannot claim benefits. As a result, some say they feel that they are not really living life, they can’t contribute to society, they cannot support a family and they feel unvalued and lonely.

Living in community not only means living alongside each other, but creating something together. We all look after our shared living space and everyone contributes in different ways to building a sense of community. These activities are not governed by capitalist relations, but they do constitute work and therefore allow each of us to feel empowered, skilled and valuable.

For those of us who could work for an income, giving our work for free as a gift to our community and living in voluntary poverty is an act of faith. Fear of poverty makes us dependent on the capitalist system that promises security but also divides, isolates and dehumanises us. We try to overcome this fear by putting our faith in God who loves the poor and promises to provide for us.f

Nora Ziegler is a member of the London Catholic Worker and lives at Giuseppe Conlon House.

SMALL SOCIALISM

As a society we are increasingly concerned with scale and efficiency. Mega farms with herds of thousands of cattle replace small local dairy herds, a handful of large conglomerates own many of the brands on our shelves and thousands pack out auditoriums to attend mega churches.

But what does this mean for the way we love people? It can mean that we increasingly see our call to ‘do good’ as a duty held primarily by soup kitchens, global charities, big hostels and training centres, which we can volunteer with and give to; we share on-line campaigns and run marathons for development charities. We seek to love people effectively and efficiently.

This can be fantastic, life changing and engaging, but the mistake comes when we paint this capitalist altruism as the only way to engage with our communities. When we say, ‘You want to bring good news to the poor? to bind up the broken hearted? Then what you’ll need to do is set up a Just Giving page and run to Lands’ End. Leave the gritty stuff to the professionals’.

The culture of the professional do-gooder is dis-empowering to the individual.

I live in a community house. We got together because several years ago a few of us shared, at an open-mic night for dreams and visions, that we wanted to look a bit more like the early church. We share rooms and possessions. We share meals and morning prayers. We have an open door and invite people who need a bed to stay in our spare room. We aim to create a make-shift family for the poorly, run-down and homeless. Mostly just one at a time. Around our lives and jobs. As best we can.

It often doesn’t look like a success story. It looks inefficient, messy, costly and inconvenient. I spend around 30% of my waking time washing up. We raid supermarket bins for banquets. It took me three months to complete my tax return because visitors would knock on the door with more pressing needs. My bedroom door has a lock.

I work full-time in the prison system and help to run a community church group with some people who have left prison. Thanks to a wonderful array of residents the house also hosts a would-be-wasted food café, various political campaigns and multiple church projects.

In the last months I have also given a ukulele lesson to two homeless friends, conducted a funeral for a magpie we co-parented with a guest (who also came to live in the spare room) and twice I have been the object of police contact. Last week I cried my eyes out at the baptism of our current guest and this morning found the route to the washing machine blocked by an anonymous food donation.

We get it wrong more times than I can tell you. I’ve learnt more about my flaws this year than my strengths, but I have rarely found such life.  I’ve just had to scratch the surface to find that we are no pioneers. The Church’s history is full of stories of this beautiful messy small-scale socialism. People all around the world today are giving their lives over the gospel’s cause of love.

I’ve learnt that when we make our love-giving clean, efficient financially-focussed and large-scale we can easily miss the point, which is that we are called to be sacrificial and our care-giving is supposed to be risky. What people need, more often than not, cannot be provided wholesale. It’s being known, accepted and being believed in. It’s very small-scale socialism. It’s family.

Luckily, that’s what we, in the Church, have buckets of. f

 

Miriam Skinner lives in a work-in-progress community house in Durham, which she started with some friends four years ago.

FRANCISCAN SOCIALISM: THE FORGOTTEN DIMENSION OF OUR MOVEMENT

St Francis, a socialist? Really? Well, not quite. Socialism was a generic term created in the nineteenth century, responding to social issues of the time. However, I would like to argue that Francis in his outlook shared a great deal of concern with that much later movement. His solutions were surprisingly similar, too.

Europe in the Late Middle Ages saw the beginning of a flourishing long-distance trade that had its epicentre in the towns of Italy. Merchants were the pioneers of a new economic approach that was to sweep the world in centuries to come: Capitalism, whose lifeblood was money. It is in that Italy that we find the cradle of the man who was to become the saintly Francis. For us, who were born and bred in Capitalism, it is hard to imagine what a rare substance money was in an economy based on subsistence farming. Francis’ well attested contempt for this idol-in-the-making spoke volumes about his appreciation for the new age.

Merchants like his father Pietro Bernadone did not produce anything themselves; they exchanged what others had produced. Trade potentially benefits the entire economy, by encouraging greater efficiency through inter-regional division of labour. However, Bernadone and his colleagues made most of their profits in luxury items, like fine cloth, if only because the costs of transport were prohibitive. Now, as then, however, there is little economic benefit in the luxury industry. Thus merchants did not enlarge the cake by adding value, they only took a large slice for themselves, at the expense of others. This rise in trade fuelled the growing inequality of society.

We might not sympathise with the nobility fighting against social decline, but the growing army of beggars in the streets of Assisi were a much more disturbing sight for the young Francis. Although his conversion was a multi-layered process, the early sources leave us in no doubt that the abhorrence about the plight of the poor was a major driving force for his change of life. When Francis left his father’s house, he also rejected the inhumane society of Assisi where some grew rich, not caring about the sorry state of those they left impoverished.

There are surprising parallels to our time. We, too, have witnessed a group of people, who through the last few decades have grown surprisingly rich: investment bankers and their clientele. Western economies saw a rapid growth of the financial sector after the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1973. Britain is the prime example of this process that economists came to call ‘Financialisation’. The City of London has reached an overbearing position, both in the economy and in politics. Just like international trade, the financial sector has two faces. According to textbook economics, banking is very useful: it facilitates an exchange between savers and entrepreneurs, who need loans for new business opportunities. However, this amounts to only 15% of financial business today. Most of the turnover in the City deals with highly speculative structured investment products, which are of virtually no benefit to the economy at all (while causing massive crashes, and requiring tax payer funded bail-outs).

Finance has been twisted into a powerful instrument for some people to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Most people usually say that they do not understand Finance. It is important to realize that this is no coincidence! The financial system is consciously designed to be notoriously difficult, because difficulty is an admirable defence shield against unwanted public scrutiny. Although the vast majority of us cannot see through it, we feel in our guts that something is not quite right here. And indeed: the flip side of bankers’ affluence is the growing destitution at the bottom, whilst the middle class is stagnating, at best. Financialisation has produced growing poverty and inequality in our time; just as the rise of trade did in the 1200s.

Now, back to Francis: After he broke with his Father, he started to live in a radically different way that appeared mad to most of his contemporaries (at first). He became a little Brother to the poor and despised in town. As long as they were treated without dignity or respect, he would not accept any privilege either. He put into practice a foundational, yet often forgotten teaching of Jesus: that the whole human race is essentially one big family, and that we should be brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to each other. This involves sharing our material possessions, especially with the most unfortunate. Jesus explicitly said that he would accept such deeds as done to himself. Following in the footprints of Jesus, Francis had no time for the self-centred greed that shaped his father’s business, and just as much rules the 24/7 trading floors from Wall Street to Shanghai.

Francis called people to a life of penance, which meant nothing else than a complete turn around: away from accepted, yet heartless ways of treating fellow human beings, to gospel values. His vision for society, and indeed for the whole of God’s creation, was that of a Brotherhood (note: the Italian word fraternitàis gender neutral). A good practical example for this philosophy is how Francis approached the wolf in Gubbio. A conflict had arisen out of exclusion that put the two sides into fierce confrontation. The solution that Francis brokered was the inclusion of both into one community of love, where they would look after each other’s needs. It is easy to romanticise this story, when its simple wisdom is so desperately needed.

Nobody has put the vision of Francis into words for our time better than Pope Benedict XVI, when he tried to summarise the lessons from the Financial Crisis. In his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he concluded:

‘One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation. If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love. Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God’s love, by man’s basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself, thinking himself to be self-sufficient. The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of the fundamental values of justice and peace.’

We live in a world where the profiteers of Financialisation lock themselves into the isolation of their golden ghettos, just like Pietro Bernadone would have done. Many a Lazarus lies at their doorstep; but with hearts of stone they refuse to share, perhaps except for a tiny fraction of their affluence that they might give to charity. The Bible leaves us in no doubt as to the rich man’s end! As Franciscans in this ‘age of austerity’, how are we going to respond to the question of the former pope? How can we help to bring about the real development of humanity, into one family based on justice and peace? f

Br Robert SSF lives in St Anthony’s Friary, Newcastle upon Tyne.

 

 

SOCIALISM’S CHRISTIAN HERITAGE

While there have always been Christian socialists, the left has often been associated with either a tub-thumping anti-clericalism that denounces religiosity as the opium of the masses, or with an aggressive progressivism that understands religion only as an arbitrary and prejudiced cosmological belief system. This is a shame. The ethical life of the civilisation that gave birth to socialism was distinctively Christian. Socialism is a product of certain ethical tenets, Christian in origin, which we now take for granted. It is all the better for this. Across the West the left is on the retreat; its Christian origins may provide the basis for its renewal.

Secular modernity claims a rationality and a neutrality that it does not possess. The leaders of what Catholic philosopher Pierre Manent calls ‘radical secularism’ – in particular, the more zealous European Union leaders – believe that the Europe of nations and churches can be and is being replaced by a belief in human universality in which the nations and churches that were once at the heart of European culture no longer command the loyalty of European citizens. One could argue that the result of the UK referendum on staying in the EU represented a rejection of this secular, progressive view.  It was, furthermore, revealed not to be neutral at all. The EU’s belief in the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital and the movement of people – advancing towards a universally understood form of human progress, is a perspective with a distinctly religious hue.

There is a paradox here: on the one hand we declare ourselves secular and humanity universal; on the other, the belief in universal humanity and egalitarianism, reflected in the altruism and self-sacrifice of much of Europe’s approach to the refugee crisis, is an almost uniquely Christian proposition. Angela Merkel grasped this paradox when she said that the problem in Europe was not too much Islam, but too little Christianity.

In the crucifixion of Christ, the story of which serves as the basis of Western morality, centuries of ethics were turned on their head. As Tom Holland put it in a recent New Statesman article:

‘Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves[…] Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value.

It is paradoxically our particular Christian heritage that gives rise to our belief in universalism. Recent books by Larry Siedentop and Nick Spencer argue convincingly that it is the Christian conception of the human soul, which all possess, that creates the conditions for egalitarianism – as Saint Paul articulated 2,000 years ago. Every individual, regardless of their social role, is equal in the eyes of God. Today, this seems a commonplace concept but it was a revolutionary moral transformation from the belief system of the pagan, tribal and partisan gods that preceded it. This aspect of our Christian inheritance undermined the old moral justifications for the heritability of hierarchy and even the ultimate subjugation of slavery that defined antiquity.

Beyond our shared Christian history, Christians of all traditions have played an important role in socialist and labour movements. Non-conformist Methodists in particular played a substantial role in the formation of the Labour party and provided the party – outside of London – with a bedrock of support and activity. The party’s relationship with Catholics has been more strained but they, too, formed a reliable block of support and activity, particularly in Scotland and Merseyside. Often standing in contrast to Marxist, economistic and utilitarian tendencies on the left, Christians have tended to value the importance of civility and virtue, meaningful relationships and community feeling. What’s more, despite the materialism of other tendencies within the Labour movement, Christians have seldom fallen for the dangerous delusion that tragedy, suffering and human imperfection can be eradicated altogether in some future utopia – a vision whose easy appeal has led so many socialists astray.

Some of the overlaps between Christianity and socialism are clear – a respect for the dignity of the poor and the belief in ecological stewardship, which Saint Francis above all cherished, for example. But most of all, our Christian heritage offers us a way of tying together collectivism and individualism in a way that satisfies the human need to be part of a meaningful community, without trampling on the dignity of the individual. In the parts of the world that used to be called Christendom, nativism is rising as people who have lost the sense of collective identity that nationhood, religiosity, reliable patterns of labour and tightly bound families and communities once brought, search for new forms of collective identity and meaning. Christianity invented the individual, as Siedentop puts it, but it also understood the individual as embedded in relationships and shaped by history, rather than as a solitary atom moving frictionless across the surface of the earth. A politics rooted in such a conception neither ignores our tribal impulses, as do many contemporary liberals, nor weaponises them, as does the nativist right wing.

Amidst the tumult of today’s political world, the concerns that the Christian pioneers of the Labour movement expressed, seem more important than ever. By stressing the common good over sectional interests; the spiritual and ethical dimension of the good life over the narrowly economic; and the importance of virtue and relationships over moral libertarianism, Christianity offers the left an opportunity to once again speak to the common good of the country, and relate to people in the full richness of who they are.

Globalisation and secularism have unmoored people from a common sense of belonging, and mean-spirited nativist identity politics is filling the gap. An acknowledgment of our Christian heritage could provide the basis for the renewal of a Labour politics that speaks to humans as the relational creatures, fallen and imperfect but capable of love and redemption, which we are. f

Tobias Phibbs is a researcher at the Fabian Society and assistant editor of the Fabian Review.

GOD, CAESAR AND MONEY

 In 2013, the Christian Socialist Movement voted to change its name to ‘Christians on the Left’. Some argued that people were put off by the word ‘socialist’. The Guardian journalist Peter Ormerod – an active Anglican – wrote half-jokingly that it wasn’t the word ‘socialist’ that put people off, but the word ‘Christian’. 

Paradoxically, the name change is an opportunity to revive the language of Christian Socialism. The Christian Socialist Movement effectively served as a group for Christians in the Labour Party. Under its new name, they still operate in this way, though I’m pleased to say that they are happy to campaign alongside others on the left who are not Labour supporters.

However, Christian Socialism is older than the Labour Party. As early as 1848, Anglican priest Frederick Denison Maurice argued that ‘Christianity is the only foundation of socialism… a true socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity’.

Christian Socialists welcome debate and do not all share an identical understanding of socialism. Nonetheless, I suggest that socialism must involve radical change. As Christians caught up in the mind-bendingly transformative work of Jesus, we should be especially equipped to support alternatives to the sort of ‘accountancy politics’ that sees politicians argue about which of them could best manage the economy. Let’s transform the economy, not manage it.

The term ‘Christian Socialism’ developed in the mid-nineteenth century, but the movement drew on a range of Christian and other traditions going back to the Bible. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Christian Socialism has overlapped with other movements, including Liberation Theology, Christian Pacifism and Christian Feminism.

Common ownership is at the heart of socialism. I am conscious that readers of the franciscando not need me to tell them that monastic movements provide numerous manifestations of communities holding possessions in common. While the Reformation is often associated with a rejection of monasticism, the practice of common ownership proliferated among groups linked to the ‘Radical Reformation’. In the sixteenth century, Anabaptists shared goods in common, citing the New Testament to justify their practice.

In 1649, a group of radicals began to dig up common land in Surrey and to share their produce together. They are commonly known as the ‘Diggers’. Their inspiration was explicitly Christian. They wrote that God ‘made the earth to be a common treasury… not one word was spoken in the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another’.

The Diggers were not saying only that common ownership was right for themselves. They argued that it was right for the whole world. For the Diggers, those who regard the earth as belonging to ‘lords and landlords’ are sinning and holding ‘the creation under bondage’.

Socialism involves a conviction that the world’s resources must be shared. Those who mock this idea suggest that it would mean not having your own bed or your own underpants, as someone else would be able to use them. This is to confuse availability with property. While something may be allocated to me, or chosen by me, or used by me, no part of God’s creation can ever truly belongto me.

Many socialists, including Karl Marx, have been dismissive of attempts to set up communities of common ownership within capitalist systems. Their criticisms are at least partially unfair. Of course, it is wrong to imagine that any such community could be uninvolved in the injustices of capitalism. To think this would be to underestimate the reality of sin. Some communities, however, are meant not as an opt-out from the world but a signpost to the future. Syndicalists (who advocate a bottom-up socialism based on workers’ control of workplaces) talk of ‘building the new world in the shell of the old’. The aim, however, is to extend common ownership to the whole of society. For Christian Socialists, this is a religious imperative.

‘The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race,’ wrote the US Christian Socialist (and Episcopalian bishop) Franklin Spencer Spalding in 1914. ‘Therefore, the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life’.

There are many reasons for Christians to reject capitalism – the perpetuation of poverty, the wastefulness of over-production, the maldistribution of wealth, the idolatry inherent in making human needs subservient to markets and money. For me, the strongest reason to reject private property is the example of Jesus.

It is widely recognised by New Testament scholars that Jesus and his followers lived in some sort of common-purse community as they travelled around proclaiming the Kingdom of God. This radically subversive act, which saw them reject social norms by leaving their families, was a lived commitment to a different set of values. The rich man invited to sell his goods was not being asked to make himself destitute but to join the community. The Jerusalem Christians who shared possessions in common were not starting something new but continuing Jesus’ practice. Opponents of Christian Socialism like to point out that this was voluntary. They maintain that Jesus did not want to change society. Yet Jesus was inspired by the Hebrew prophets, whose condemnations of exploitation are unavoidably political.

Centuries of establishment teaching have made us familiar with interpretations of Jesus that favour the status quo. Thus the ‘parable of the talents’ is presented as a story about using our gifts wisely. I found a very different response when I was researching my last book, and showed Jesus’ teachings to non-Christians who were unfamiliar with them. Without exception, they all read the parable as an attack on the rich man. By this reading the servant who refuses to co-operate is the hero of the story.

Some of my first-time readers saw the famous ‘Render unto Caesar’ passage as an encouragement to pay tax, but just as many read it the opposite way. They picked up on the context: Jesus was threatened with arrest so needed to give an indirect answer. It seems to me that Jesus was inviting his listeners to think about what really belongs to Caesar, and what to God.

It should not be thought that any Christian Socialist regards socialism as sinless. Socialism is not the kingdom of God. It is a step on the way. Yet I suggest it is a vital step, because common ownership of the world’s resources is unavoidable if we are to give the answer that nothing can truly belong to Caesar. It can only belong to God. f

Symon Hill is a Christian activist and author. His latest book is The Upside-Down Bible: What Jesus really said about money, sex and violence (DLT, 2015). 

COMMUNITY ROUTES

Community Routes

Church of the Poor?

On 19thNovember, 2016, Church Action on Poverty (CAP) gathered its supporters for its annual conference at the Unitarian Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. Among them, were two First Order Brothers and two Tertiaries. As a matter of fact, Helen Hood TSSF is serving as one of the trustees of CAP. It was also a nice surprise to bump into Brother Fabian CR. As it turns out, we are not the only Anglican religious community supporting CAP.

CAP felt inspired by Pope Francis, who recently said: ‘How I wish, that there was a church of the poor.’ The day started by listening to poetry that was created in a local Creative Writing Project, where poor people could articulate the joys and frustrations of their lives. Then various different groups and people were given a chance to present themselves: ranging from a church that opened its door to the homeless, a Baptist Minister who founded an alternative church in a poor area, to an evangelical Pastor who presented his research on the ‘Myth of the undeserving poor’. At that point, we broke into round table groups discussing how we could transform our churches into places of and for the poor.

Lunch was a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people. In the afternoon, a panel discussion deepened our conversation, followed by more round table discussions and a final plenary. At that point, it was time for the AGM and about half of the audience discreetly sneaked away. It felt like an enriching day, at which the Franciscan presence was well appreciated. We are looking forward to a growing partnership between SSF and CAP.

Hope, not fear

Brothers and sisters throughout the Province have prayed, stood, walked, or sat, in various demonstrations in solidarity with others against discrimination or in the cause of peace.

Stand up to Racism

At a time when there is a deeply worrying increase in the number of racist incidents being reported in the UK 1,500 people gathered together in London on 8thOctober, 2016, to attend the annual ‘Stand up to Racism’ conference. The great number of people, as well as the obvious diversity within the audience was an encouraging sight. There were refugees and other immigrants, activists and campaigners, Trades Unionists, teachers, politicians and other people who are simply concerned. As part of this great assembly there were three Franciscans representing the Society of St Francis and specifically the First Order Brothers’ Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Working Group. It was a day full of input and networking opportunities. The most useful meeting organised support for the refugees in Calais. We were reminded by speaker after speaker how harmful racism is to its victims, and, sadly, how widespread it is in this country.

21stJanuary London march

In the same vein, Christine James and Beverley went to London on 21st January, 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, as women-led marches were held in  cities all over the world ‘for the protection of our fundamental rights and for the safeguarding of freedoms threatened by recent political events. We unite and stand together for the dignity and equality of all peoples, for the safety and health of our planet and for the strength of our vibrant and diverse communities.’

Celebrating diversity through immigration

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, (27thJanuary), President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting people from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the USA, an act that provoked condemnation on a worldwide scale. On the 30thJanuary, 2017, there were protests all over the UK, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May – who appeared ambivalent when interviewed on the policy – to condemn the ban. The Brothers in Newcastle decided to register their opposition to the ban and all it stands for and joined in one such protest. It was wonderfully inspiring to be part of a huge assembly, which had gathered at 24 hours’ notice around the Earl Grey Monument in the City Centre. The organisers used the occasion to send a clear message against hatred. Many signs stated ‘Refugees are welcome here’. It gave us a great sense of hope that civil society is still so alive and well in the UK: and willing to stand up!

Canterbury

On 20thFebruary, 2017, the UN World day of Social Justice, people from all over the UK celebrated the continuing contribution of migrants to this country. The Brothers in Canterbury joined others in marking this by attending a march and holding it in prayer at the Eucharist (the march passed by the chapel as some of the Brothers were celebrating the Eucharist). On the same day in Westminster, Parliament held a debate about the proposed visit of Donald Trump to the United Kingdom. This, coupled with the ongoing Brexit debate, was also noted by those participating in the march. Speaker after speaker proposed that we focus on hope and not fear. The march was attended by several hundred people representing the Church, universities and others.

Korea

Frances and Jemma joined a demonstration against THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), an anti-missile system due to be installed somewhere near Gumi, the city less than a couple of miles from where the sisters live. It is to protect the South from North Korean missile strikes, but many Koreans oppose it as an unnecessary militarization of the Korean peninsula, as well as making the area more of a target for the North.

Robes

Members of the community at St Alphege’s House in Southwark were again involved with the ‘Robes Project’. This aims to provide overnight accomm-odation with an evening meal and breakfast, in church halls in the Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and Southwark areas (and you thought it was something to do with clothes!) over the winter months and until mid-April. Sue helped most Sunday evenings, Gina did the breakfast shift on Mondays and Matthew periodically cooked the evening meal, catering for about 20 people.

Triangles and Numbers

Maureen writes: We were a select group of brothers and sisters who gathered with the brothers at Alnmouth friary for three days of learning more about the enneagram, and applying it to living in community, in the second week of January. Josephine Seccombe was our tutor and we benefitted from the many years in which she has been immersed in the enneagram as a way of under-standing one’s personality: our ‘default’ methods of doing things, the things that ‘drive’ us, our desires, and our gifts.

Although the origins of the enneagram are lost in the mists of time, it has long been connected with the journey of faith, and addit-ional prayer reflections made this link clearer regarding our Christian faith. It was also good to join with the daily prayer of the friary, and to help with clearing up after meals. A friend of the brothers kindly came and cooked for us, freeing up the resident brothers to attend the sessions.

Round up

James Douglas has moved to Canterbury, and Finnian to Glasshampton.

At the Candlemas Chapter, James Douglas was elected to Profession; Christopher Martin and Joseph Emmanuel were elected to Life Profession. At the time of printing, the date for Christopher Martin’s service had been fixed for 22ndApril, in Cambridge, and James Douglas’s service for 8th July at Hilfield.

Donald celebrated the 60thanniversary of his profession in vows, at  the care home where he is now resident, on 18thMarch.

In separate elections, Sue and Benedicthave been re-elected as Minister Provincial CSF and Minister Provincial SSF, respectively, in the European Province.

In the Third Order in the European Province, Jamie Hacker Hughes has been elected to be the next Minister Provincial. He will take up office on 17thJune, 2017. f

 

 

EDITORIAL

Christian Socialism

For most people, Socialism in itself is scary enough, and we are not accustomed to think of Christianity and Socialism together. However, in this issue of franciscan, Symon Hill from Ekklesia gives an outline of Christian socialism; Tobias Phibbs from the Fabian Society reflects on the distinction between Christian and secular Socialism and Brother Robert highlights a Franciscan approach to Socialism. We’ve given the last word to the real heroes: those who put theory into practice and live Christian Socialism.

THEME PRAYER

Theme Prayer

Keep us faithful, O God,

to the inspiration of blessèd Francis,

that seeking nothing for ourselves

we may bring true riches to the world;

through him who gave us himself,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Daily Office SSF page 798

 

MINISTER’S LETTER

Sister Helen Julian, Minister General of the First Order Sisters, writes:

Dear Friends,

As I write this, many Mosques around the country are preparing to open their doors for a day to anyone who wants to visit them.  It’s a response to a particular political situation, but it got me

Helen Julian CSF

thinking about doors in general – open and closed.  Those of us who are accustomed to walking through the doors of churches can forget how intimidating that may feel to others.  Especially if they can’t see what lies beyond, it takes some courage to open the door and walk into the unknown.  We know that we’re friendly and will try to be welcoming, but the first time visitor doesn’t.  And they may have picked up strange, even worrying, ideas about what goes on behind that closed door – of churches, and other places of worship.

I remembered two churches I’d visited, which had found ways of making themselves and their life more visible.  One is a London church to which one of my sisters belongs; when they totally rebuilt the church they made the bold decision to make the most of their corner site by installing two walls made almost entirely of glass, so that passers-by could see the congregation at worship. The other is the Anglican Cathedral in Kuching, Malaysia.  When they extended the Cathedral they decided to install a large glass door at the west end, so that passers-by in this country, where Christians are a minority, could see inside and not have to push open a door into the unknown.

Of course there are other ways of ‘opening our doors’.  In our parish churches we can make sure that we are genuinely welcoming to those who do come inside, at Christmas and Harvest, for weddings, baptisms, and funerals, helping them to feel that this is their space as much as ours, and sensitively giving them the knowledge they need to feel at home. We can make use of technology to remove the walls of our churches and share something of what happens inside, through our websites and social media presence.

As a Franciscan community we also look to find ways of opening doors into our life, whether that is through wearing the habit, inviting others into our homes, going out to share our faith and the fruits of our common life, writing, or sharing on social media.

And all of us can ‘open the doors’ of our own lives as well, being willing to speak of the role of faith in our lives, rather than keeping it locked away as a private matter.

But for most of us there are also parts of our lives that do stay behind closed doors – past pain and loss, actions of which we are now ashamed, longings that can’t be fulfilled. And groups too have their closed doors, places where everyone knows that ‘we don’t go’, topics that are never raised, possibilities that are never explored. Churches, communities, families, workplaces – it happens everywhere.

John’s account of the resurrection speaks to me of this. ‘When it was evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear … Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you”.’ (John 21:19)

The doors, which we keep closed and locked out of fear, are no barrier to the risen Christ, and to the peace which he brings. Though it may be a disturbing peace, which challenges our self-protectiveness and our fear of those who are different. Janet Morley, in one of her Eucharistic prayers, offers us these words, which could be a prayer for this Easter season:

‘Blessed is our brother Jesus,

who comes behind the doors we have closed,

and breathes on our fear his fearful peace.’

 

Peace and all good, Helen Julian CSF

BR CHRISTIAN SSF RIP

Please pray for the repose of Brother Christian SSF who died this afternoon (July 5th) at Newham Hospital.

Please remember him, his friends and family, and the brothers in Plaistow in your prayers. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Brother Christian SSF (David John Pearson).
Born 3 March 1942.
Received as novice in SSF 5 February 1972.
First profession in SSF 5 February 1975.
Life profession in SSF 4 February 1978.

Br Ramon SSF

Canon Arthur Howells, a friend of Br Ramon’s, has written a book about Ramon which includes extracts from Ramon’s writings. Entitled A Franciscan Life it is published by the Bible Reading Fellowship and costs £8.99 (ISBN: 9780857466624). Br Christopher John SSF (Minister General of the Brothers of the First Order) writes “…Congratulations to Arthur Howells and BRF for producing a book which encapsulates what I knew of Br Ramon SSF. I really appreciate the way the author has blended the story of Ramon’s life with extracts from Ramon’s own words. And the thematic extracts from his writings provide material for individual or group reflection. Personally, I will be using the book for my daily spiritual reading, as a ‘starter’ for prayer. Thanks for the publication of this book which I am sure will do a lot to help keep Ramon’s teaching alive…”

SSF YouTube Channel

Br Christopher John (Minister General of the Society of St Francis) has been making videos on his Pastoral visits around the Provinces. Click here to be taken to his YouTube Channel.

Book Launch at Alnmouth Friary

The Friary, Alnmouth written by local historians Patricia Jones and John and Stephanie Yearnshire was launched today in the library of Alnmouth Friary. The launch, which was attended by Lord and Lady Howick (Son and Daughter-in-law of Lady Mary Howick a great benefactress of the Friary) and other guests marks the culmination of a year of research into the history of what is now the Friary of St Francis but which began life, more than a hundred years ago, as Lint Close the home of Mr and Mrs Scholefield of Alnmouth. It was particularly good that Br Reginald (acting Guardian of Alnmouth in 1988) was present as well as many friends of the Friary.

The proceeds of the book (which costs £4.00) will go towards the work of the Society of St Francis.

 

Br Reginald enjoying the book

Lord and Lady Howick with Patricia Jones and John and Stephanie Yearnshire

Br Micael (Brother in Charge)

Br Jason (who was involved in the production of the book) with John Yearnshire and Lord Howick

 

 

 

 

AUDIO FRANCISCAN JANUARY 2017

Articles

Francis, politics and urban mission – David Walker TSSF

‘Rebuild my Church’ – Gordon Dey

Franciscan Evangelism: to care for the planet – Frances Teresa Downing OSC

Mission and evangelism in SSF – David SSF

Donald SSF

Focus on Newcastle

Whatever happened to Br Giles? – Petà Dunstan

 

Vocations Event in Southwark

Life as a Franciscan Sister …..could this be for me….?
a day to explore Franciscan community life in the Church of England

  • Franciscan sisters share their stories of God’s call and their life in community
  • DVDs on St Francis and Franciscans today to help us reflect, with opportunities for discussion
  • Time for your questions …….
  • Lunch, tea/coffee etc provided

Date: Saturday 28th April 2018: 10am – 4pm

Central London venue: The Community of St Francis, St Alphege Clergy House, Pocock Street, London SE1 0BJ
Booking essential (by 21st April please)
To book: Contact suecsf@franciscans.org.uk / 020 7928 7121 with your name and contact details.

“The world is my cloister” St Francis of Assisi

MISSION AND EVANGELISM IN SSF

 

How are mission and evangelism lived out practically for Franciscans today? This is a question that we in the First Order Brothers of SSF have been trying to give more attention to in recent times. Over the last couple of years the Brothers’ Mission Group has been renewed with an influx of new brothers into the group and a lot of new ideas about how SSF can be involved in mission and evangelism have emerged.

The Mission Group is an extension of our Annual Brothers’ Meeting (often called ABC) and we try to meet at least three times each year, other than during the ABC meeting in May/June. At these meetings we try to map out how we will be engaged in mission and evangelism.

SSF has for a long time been very well known and respected because of its engagement in traditional parish missions, where one or several brothers and/or sisters would join a mission team in a parish somewhere in the country for one or two weeks of intense teaching and outreach. For various reasons there has been a drop in the number of invitations to parish missions. There have also been changes to the number of brothers and sisters who are available to go away for a week or two for a mission, without putting too much strain on the staffing of the friaries or houses where they live and work.

Because of this, we in the Mission Group have tried in the last couple of years to move away from what might be called a reactive way of looking at mission and evangelism to a more proactive way. In our discussions and in our work we have been trying to find new ways of encouraging brothers and sisters to look at mission and evangelism. Instead of waiting for an invitation to come for us to do something, we want to find opportunities ourselves to spread the good news. One thing that has caught our attention in the Mission Group is a new missionary initiative called Jesus Shaped People (which you can read more about in Revd Gordon Dey’s article). Our hope is that we in the Mission Group and brothers and sisters in SSF might feel called to get involved with this initiative.

Of course, mission and evangelism take place all the time wherever we as Franciscans happen to be. In our bigger friaries the opportunities to evangelise those who come to visit us are endless, whether it is through our worship in chapel, informal conversations around the dinner table or through spiritual direction. In smaller friaries in urban areas we are often involved in local projects, including our parish churches, youth work, ministry to asylum seekers and refugees. Also, just wandering the streets where we live wearing our habits is quite a strong statement about what we are about and what we believe in.

I would like to share with you, the readers, a bit about my own experiences of being engaged in mission and evangelism in an urban setting.

During my time as a Franciscan brother I have had the privilege of being involved with a great variety of different kinds of ministries, and there have been a lot of opportunities to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people I have encountered. The ministry that I have felt to be one of the most fruitful has been my work with young people. I have had many great experiences working with young people particularly in Newcastle and in Leeds. Even though it can be very hard work at times, it has also been very rewarding and has often filled me a great deal of joy. It has been a very joyful experience to encourage young people to learn more about God and to develop their own relationship with God.

For the last three years I have lived in urban areas of deprivation, and a common characteristic of these areas has been not only financial difficulties for many of the residents, but also family instability. Many of the young people I come across in my ministry are from severely dysfunctional families and they often have very little stability in their lives and very little hope for the future. It is in situations like these that the Church has the potential to influence these young people’s lives by  bringing stability and a sense of family; it can also bring hope to those who are feeling hopeless and, maybe most importantly, it can communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to people.

It is a great privilege to be able to accompany young people on their way to Christ, even though it is often not a very straight path for them. It gives me special joy to realise that the young people I have spent countless hours with and put a lot of effort into are actually making progress and it becomes clear that all the work has not been in vain. I have also had the privilege of being able to guide many people from a non-Christian background to faith in Jesus Christ.

I have been very blessed being part of the Mission Group for these last couple of years and being able to reflect together with my brothers about what it means for us Franciscans today to be involved in mission and evangelism. I hope that we will continue to be inspired by the life and witness of our holy father Francis and, like him, be able to preach the good news to those we encounter.  f

 

Brother David SSF lives in Leeds and is involved in the various ministries associated with St Aidan’s Church, Harehills.

 

 

FRANCIS, POLITICS AND URBAN MISSION

 

We know from the stories of Francis’ life that in his time Europe was undergoing significant changes. Although Muslim and Christian armies would continue to fight over the possession of the holy sites of the Middle East for another century, away from the battlegrounds, transport was becoming safer, trade was burgeoning, and merchants such as Francis’ father were beginning to displace the old aristocracy as the most significant secular figures in society. Wealth was steadily shifting away from the landed farming estates towards production in the cities and towns. A new societal order presented an opportunity for a new form of the religious life.

Francis was the man God called to bring it to birth. Instead of following the traditional monastic pattern by withdrawing to remote locations and building a monastic economy on agriculture, he set up small urban households whose daily needs were met by begging. His friars’ life was centred upon preaching the Good News to the townspeople through simple words and direct acts of kindness.

Was Francis an astute politician? I’m sure he would have been appalled at such an appellation. However, he managed to be one of the greatest critics of the way the church was failing his generation, whilst remaining lauded as one of its most loyal servants. He was equally adept at negotiating with the papacy, using his friends and allies at court, as he was at grandstanding outside luxurious banquets, in some of the earliest examples of a one man political demonstration. His simple authenticity and Christ-likeness allowed him to build bridges across the greatest divides, even to the extent of crossing the Crusader battle lines at Damietta and befriending Sultan Malik al-Kamil in his own tent. Francis proved that true revolution often comes from within the structures, not without.

The Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion are designed to help us to engage with the largely urban and deeply politicised society of our present century whilst being true to the gospel. The life of our founder saint, who sought answers to such questions in his own day, can help us along our journey.

One of the Five Marks of Mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. As a newly appointed bishop I was taken to visit a garden centre, where there was a display of many different shapes and sizes of Francis, variously accompanied by birds, tame wolves, or other flora and fauna. Yet Francis’ commitment to loving the creation for the sake of its Creator went far beyond preaching to the birds or picking up worms from the footpath. He offers us a true theology of creatureliness. This does much more than dismiss exponents of millennialism that would have us exhaust the Earth’s resources so that Christ would return sooner. It is equally critical of the inherent dualism of many theologies of stewardship, which place humanity over and against creation rather than locating us as fully part of it. We are more than God’s gardeners; we are part of the fruits of the garden itself. Here is the basis for a greener theology, and it poses for us a sharp question that I find myself wrestling with both as a bishop and as one of the governors of the Church Commissioners with their £7 billion plus of investments. How do we address, in God’s name, a society that consumes no more than one planet’s worth of resources? 

Another of the Anglican Five Marks of Mission is that we should ‘respond to human need by loving service’. The hallmark of Francis’ poverty is that it was freely chosen. He freely embraced the need to rely on others to provide even the most basic daily necessities, and pressed that same rigorous poverty upon his communities. However, his attitude to the need he met in others was markedly different. This latter poverty he sought to counter in whatever way he could, even if that meant tearing his cloak in two or giving up what little had just been given to him. Whilst choosing to beg alms was a spiritual discipline, being forced into poverty was degrading and dehumanizing. Just as much medieval theology assumed that those who were destitute were being punished for their sins, so today those who beg in our streets, or turn up at our foodbanks, are ranked among the guilty. Either they are culpable for their plight, through profligacy, addiction or fecklessness, or their poverty is presumed to be pretence. In the years after the First World War, a number of devout Anglican men were called by God to minister to the wayfarers who were pushed from town to town every few days in desperate search for jobs that their wounded or shell-shocked state kept ever beyond reach. It should not surprise us that they turned to Francis for their inspiration and began what we know as the First Order. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that no longer seeks to blame and punish the poor, nor to make the innocent suffer for fear that anyone might be pulling a trick on us? 

I still draw regularly on Francis’ meeting with the Sultan at Damietta as a sign of how, even at the most difficult times, it is important to maintain communications and mutual respect. But this wasn’t the only example of the saint working for reconciliation. He famously added a verse to his Canticle of Brother Sun to commemorate his calling together of the mayor and bishop of Assisi, to heal their divisions. And my favourite story for telling in school assemblies is of how he reconciled the Wolf of Gubbio and the townspeople, so that both might have a better and happier life thereafter. Helping people to see beyond their own immediate interests and perceptions, and to look at a situation through the eyes of another is probably even more vital today than it was when Francis began to practice such skills 800 years ago. It, too, links to one of our Five Marks of Mission, ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a society that grounds justice and transforms itself through reconciliation?

Whilst I’m told that the famous phrase often attributed to St Francis, ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to’, is of less than certain origin, it’s easy to see how it became attached to him. Both in his daily life and in the Rule he wrote for his first companions, he sought to be a living example of gospel living. Again and again, when he was expected to preach, instead he performed some memorable action, more profound than any words. When we read the first of the Five Marks of Mission, ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom’, we learn from Francis that the most powerful words we use will be those that are in harmony with the things that we do. The disillusionment that many in our society have towards both politics and religion is, I believe, grounded in the accusation of hypocrisy. We are not seen to behave in line with what we preach. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a faith that is authentically revealed by our deeds and our words?

The last of the Five Marks of Mission is, ‘To teach, baptise and nurture new believers’. Its emphasis is on the process of formation, which follows on from conversion and begins the lifelong task of growing into holiness. Monastic communities are, at their very heart, formational communities. My role as chair of the Advisory Council of the Church of England, working with both traditional and new monasticism, is centred on enabling our Religious Communities to be places where such formation into holiness can most effectively take place. Francis nurtured his companions with both a firmness of purpose and a deeply pastoral gentleness. He challenged the brother who wanted to own a prayer book, but voluntarily broke his own strict fast in order to eat with a member of the community who was distraught with hunger. Such ministry is essentially relational where, in the human encounter, side by side,  we explore God’s call upon us. It has been my privilege to act as a novice counsellor to a number of new tertiaries over the years. Together we have talked, studied, reflected and discerned what it means to follow Jesus after the example of St Francis. In a complex urban society we often find ourselves members of a number of separate communities such as parish, family and workplace, which are seeking to form us in different ways. In setting up the Third Order, Francis gave weight to this multifaceted living in a way that no one had previously done. He found a way in which those inspired by his charism could be formed not just for living in community but for living beyond it. How do we proclaim, in God’s name, a way of being community that nurtures and forms us into those who can transform society? f

Copyright Paul Heyes Photography Limited.
** FREE TO USE IMAGES **
The new Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev David Walker, outside Manchester Cathedral. Picture by Paul Heyes, Wednesday June 5, 2013.

David Walker TSSF is the Bishop of Manchester and Chair of the Advisory Council for Religious Communities.

 

 

THINKING BIBLICALLY ABOUT ISLAM – IDA GLASER WITH HANNAH KAY

This book is about reading the Bible in the context of Islam, rather than dialogue or evangelism. The authors draw upon international experience, and current involvement in the Centre for Muslim Christian Studies of which Glaser is the Director, in Oxford.

A multilayered Biblical framework is introduced through Genesis 1-11; human beings created in God’s image: but fallen, as with Cain, Babel and Noah’s neighbours in seeking land and power. The flood is God’s judgment, a reversal of creation. But in tension with his mercy, God accepts sacrifices and makes a covenant. This tension will be resolved in the cross.  Here is a pattern for understanding all sorts of people including Muslims. This leads to a critical comparison with the Qur’anic accounts of Cain and Abel, Babel and Noah.

The important second section focuses on the Transfiguration of Jesus in relation to Elijah, Moses, messianic expectations, and the cross. Jesus deals with the powers of evil, restores people to their right minds, and presents them to the heavenly Father. This prepares for a comparative study of parallel Islamic material.

In Part 3 is a study of Islam in the light of Genesis and the Transfiguration. The Qur’an refers to Elijah, Moses and other Biblical characters, and is the self authenticating revelation to the prophet Muhammad. In thinking about the Qur’an, Muhammad, the Ummah (community), Shariah (law), the authors recognize agreements with the Bible as well as differences: Jesus is referred to as Messiah but does not die on the cross or rise from the dead. Muhammad as The Prophet is given priority over Jesus.

Section 4, Transformation, states ‘the cross is the answer to the problems in human nature seen in the flood story’ It is the acceptable sacrifice.  In Islamic thinking, there is no need for this sacrifice as God can, by his mercy, simply forgive sin, and rescue Jesus from evildoers and take him straight to Paradise. I consider that the authors’ latter assertions need further sensitive examination by Christians and Muslims separately and together. This should not diminish the book’s detailed and delicate understanding of Islam within the embrace of God’s love for us all.

Donald Reece

Oxford

 

 

PILGRIMAGE OF AWAKENING; THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF MURRAY AND MARY ROGERS – MARY VT CATTAN

This book is written with great sensitivity towards the characters involved, yet in a style that makes this book a real page-turner. Mary and Murray Rogers, he newly ordained, set off as Christian missionaries to India in 1946. The world they met there shook them and drew them in unexpected directions from which there was no return, but throughout life challenged them. Mary and Murray thought that to live simply like their poor neighbours was the authentic missionary call, but this was quickly changed with their first contact with Gandhi’s ashram, and they set out to build their own Christian ashram. This led to ‘awakening’ in interfaith dialogue. Murray’s zest and energy drove him to ever-increasing contacts with Hinduism and Buddhism. Mary steadily supported him, and when Heather Sandeman joined them in their ashram, the threesome became a force to be reckoned with.

The book makes liberal use of letters by all three to depict their situation and their personal spiritual pilgrimage and inner struggles, especially Mary, who gave up her care for their three children with a heavy heart.

Their openness to all people, especially the poor, and Murray’s increasing outspokenness on issues of justice and equity made it necessary for the little community to leave India and settle first in Jerusalem, then Hong Kong, Canada, and finally return to the UK.

The book shows very clearly how ordinary people can become extraordinary when listening to their inner call and responding with unfailing dedication, despite hesitations and seemingly impossible obstacles.

Verena Tschudin TSSF

 

THE ESTABLISHMENT. AND HOW THEY GET AWAY WITH IT – OWEN JONES

This book offers a most shocking and insightful view behind the scenes of British politics. It is mainly based on interviews with a large range of powerful people and academics. What might appear like a conspiracy theory is simply a different interpretation of facts that are out in the open. Owen Jones presents the hypothesis that Big Corporations have a suffocating grip on political decision making in this country, steering the process to profit their own vested interests. This is not only undemocratic, but also to the peril of economic prospects for most other people. The Establishment in Jones’ view consists not only of the 1% on the top, but also of the stakeholders that help to create this authoritarian twist of a democracy.

And he covers them one by one. He starts with the outriders, a network of academics and think tank researchers that slowly prepared the ground from the 1950s onward and are still crucial to justify the status quo. He carries on by showing to what a disturbing extent the political elite is in the pocket of the Corporate Sector, through a string of material and immaterial rewards. One of the more extreme cases he quotes is of a politician who received a million pounds in payments from various sources during  two years in Parliament alone (on top of his MP salary, obviously). What might be called a legitimate remuneration for extra-curricular activity, Jones reveals as really nothing less than corruption.

Jones goes on to show how the media throw themselves behind this, pursuing the interests of their rich owners. He also demonstrates how the independence and economic prospects of journalists are weakened, whilst their work load ever increases, leaving less and less time for background research. Most of the news is really public relations tactics. The police have helped aggressively to build this new Britain, only to find themselves the victims of financial cuts, when they were considered expendable.

Owen Jones show how the ‘Big 4’ Accountancy Firms are drawn in to write blurry legislation, which they then use in turn to achieve large scale tax evasion for their clients. As a pattern, these big companies at first don’t pay their tax bill at all. They let their debt build up to a substantial amount, and then they enter into negotiations. The Big 4 sell their contacts to HMRC to achieve ‘sweet heart deals’ for their clients. Jones demonstrates how privatisation really means that profitable chunks of state activity are sold off, whilst the costly ones remain public. Consider the rail system: private companies provide the low cost train services and get the money from ticket sales, with subsidies on top. Meanwhile, the state has to fund the expensive building and upkeep of the rail network. Today, the government after inflation spends six times more on rail, than before privatisation!

Jones goes on to highlight how contracting out of public services to private companies usually leads to a sharp decline in workers’ rights and pay, whilst the quality of the service deteriorates. But despite the fact, which watchdogs constantly show, that private contractors don’t fulfil their obligations, contracts usually get renewed. Privately run public services are wanted politically. Despite all the anti-state rhetoric, private companies earn handsomely from the public sector.

This book is disturbing. And well worth a read.

Robert SSF

CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AND JEWS – MONA SIDDIQUI

Professor Mona Siddiqui, a speaker on BBC Thought for the Day, is empathetic in her exposition of Christianity as well as Islam.  She introduces Muhammad as apostle of Law and Prophecy; ‘a prophet reveals the mighty hand of God in events; both the sign and the prophet are sacred.’ While quoting Quranic references to Jesus as prophet of the end times, she recognizes that the Gospel story of Jesus gives a critically prophetic view of the contemporary social order.

Her historical overview covers debates between Islam and Oriental Orthodox Churches. She presents Islamic monotheism, and Christian doctrines of the Trinity, incarnation and crucifixion.

The seventy Quranic references to Mary are an example to all believers.

Chapters 5, of Love and Law, and 6, Siddiqui’s personal reflections on the cross, are a goldmine for contemporary sympathetic dialogue amongst Christians and Muslims. ‘From an Islamic perspective it is Jesus’ humanity, the new consciousness he brought with his re-ordering of the social order, which continues to redeem us, not his death.’ Siddiqui quotes the letter to the Hebrews 10.16-17; ‘This is the covenant I will establish… I will put my laws in their hearts and write them in their minds, their sins and evildoing I will remember no more.’ She quotes Rowan Williams:  ‘Since God is the victim of human injury, then there is beyond all our sin a love that is inexhaustible.’  Also Ali Merad  ‘… the believer will experience victory over the forces of evil.  Islam refuses to accept the tragic image of the Passion… because it would imply that God has failed’.

Siddiqui has sat openly before the cross in Church; ‘while the cross speaks to me, it does not draw me in… there are other ways to come to redemption’.  The prayerful model should be pursued.  Muslims and Christians being at prayer in silence with each other.  Prayer is an illuminating companion to our theological understanding.

Donald Reece

Oxford